When the Red Sox traded franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in February 2020, there was understandable angst in Red Sox Nation. Since then, however, the play of Alex Verdugo has begun to change perceptions about the trade and Boston’s future.
Betts, a homegrown star, MVP and World Series champion was the type of player that teams generally pull out all the stops to hold on to. The return of Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong did not appear much to be excited about. Seeing the Red Sox stumble through an awful 2020 season while Betts finished second in MVP voting and hit .295 in the playoffs to help the Dodgers win a World Series felt like a gut punch.
When looking at the trade over the past season and a half, it continues to look like Boston will end up better off than many feared originally.
Since coming to Boston, Verdugo has been better than advertised. His .308 average in 2020 was better than Betts, but his 7 homers and 15 RBIs fell well short of Betts’ 16 homers and 39 RBIs. In 2021, Verdugo’s batting average is 30 points higher than Betts with only one less home run and 2 more RBIs. Betts also has 4 more doubles and has drawn 14 more walks, giving him an OPS that is 38 points higher than Verdugo’s.
Defensively, Betts had a large edge in 2020, when he won a Gold Glove. This season, Verdugo has a fielding percentage 9 points higher than Betts, though some of that can be contributed to playing a significant amount of left field at Fenway Park.
Verdugo has not outshined Betts or helped the Red Sox win a World Series, but he has held his own across the board and been better than Betts in several categories. His enthusiasm for Boston and playing for the Red Sox is also notable and a nice bonus. Verdugo is three years younger than Betts and comes at a significantly lower salary cost. Verdugo currently makes $650,000 and even with a big pay raise after this season he will not approach Betts’ $30 million per season.
To this point, Downs has not played any MLB games and Wong has appeared in three. Wong is batting .148 in AAA and Downs is sitting at .234, while both have been solid in the field. Downs looks like the more promising prospect of the two, but it is tough to get a firm judgement just yet due to the entire 2020 AAA season being canceled and only 41 played thus far in 2021.
The Mookie Betts trade will go down as one of the most controversial moves in Red Sox history and the play of Verdugo, Wong and Downs in the next decade will determine how it is remembered. As it stands now, Verdugo has exceeded expectations and softened the blow of the trade. It can no longer be looked at as just the shipping out of an MVP for payroll relief. This article is not saying that Verdugo for Betts straight up is a good move, but Verdugo’s play has single-handedly made the trade a reasonable move and if either of Downs or Wong becomes an everyday big leaguer or better, Chaim Bloom will look golden.